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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

You've Gotta Learn to Walk This Way

Exercise is a necessity if you have Parkinson's disease and walking is a great way to keep moving. One of the realities of living with Parkinson's disease is that your gait will change. These changes happen so slowly, you may not even notice that your arm no longer swings or that you walk like you have a ten pound weight attached to one ankle. 

Medications can reduce the rigidity, but if you've been walking this way for a long time, it can be difficult for your brain to learn a more normal gait. 

Prior to diagnosis, I had a very distinctive gait. I lurched. Neighbors could tell it was me from four blocks away.  

My right leg was very rigid, my right hand was always clenched into a fist, my right arm didn't swing and my right foot seemed to thud down as I walked. People, including medical folks, thought for sure I had a stroke. 

After diagnosis and medications, my gait slowly changed, and I lurched only when my meds wore off. One of these times, made for a humorous story involving a dance contest

As the disease progressed and I began to take more and more medications, my gait changed again. My movements became slower and my left foot would cramp. Gait changes can cause pain in your knees, hips, feet, back, neck and even shoulders due to postural misalignment and in my case, I had left hip pain that woke me every morning along with occasional charlie horses. Not fun.

Fortunately, the last foot cramp I had was the morning of my DBS surgery and as the settings got optimized and I reduced the amount of medications I was taking, my gait slowly changed again. The charlie horses disappeared but I now added left knee pain in the mornings. I would get out of bed and within ten minutes, I'd be out walking. It seemed the only way to relieve the hip and knee pain.

Sometime in the last year or so, I realized that my left knee and hip had stopped hurting and therefore, I was sleeping longer. Yippee! Hooray! 

However, I began to notice something new a few months back. When I would first get out of bed, the bottom of both feet would hurt for the first three or four steps I'd take. Since walking seemed to relieve the pain, I began walking even longer distances. But each morning, the pain was worse and then, throughout the day, if I sat for more than 15 minutes, the first few steps I took were very painful.

I considered going to a foot doctor, but decided to ask others with Parkinson's first. They came up with a possible answer: Plantar Fasciitis. It seems my gait had changed again and my feet were slapping the ground as I walked instead of rolling normally from heel to toe. The more I walked, the more I aggravated my feet. 

I had my DBS settings adjusted, bought brand new walking shoes, reduced the amount of time I walked and paid close attention to exactly how I took each step. If I get distracted, I begin slapping my feet again, especially my right foot. It's been a few months now, and my feet are slowly getting better, but I am still walking.

Here I am, at age 55, trying to learn how to Walk This Way.

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